Putting Carby’s ODPEM con­cerns in con­text

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

THE EDITOR, Sir:

DIS­TIN­GUISHED PUB­LIC ser­vant, cur­rent di­rec­tor of the Dis­as­ter Risk Re­duc­tion Cen­tre (DRRC) at the Uni­ver­sity of the West Indies (UWI) and a for­mer head of the Of­fice of Dis­as­ter Pre­pared­ness and Emer­gency Man­age­ment (ODPEM), Dr Bar­bara Carby, in an in­ter­view with The Gleaner, raised con­cerns about the re­cent prepa­ra­tions for the pos­si­ble on­slaught of Hur­ri­cane Matthew and how pub­lic­ity sur­round­ing the prepa­ra­tions was han­dled.

While her con­cerns, on the sur­face, seem quite valid, more and bet­ter par­tic­u­lars are needed to as­cer­tain whether the crit­i­cism, in the in­stant case, was jus­ti­fied or mis­placed.

ODPEM cur­rently has a di­rec­tor of pub­lic in­for­ma­tion who was shown in at least one live TVJ in­ter­view on the eve of the pre­dicted storm. This sug­gests there was no re­stric­tion on me­dia ac­cess. ODPEM is­sued press re­leases and ad­vi­sories, ap­par­ently with­out the prior ap­proval of any politi­cian. In­deed, when Matthew was still clas­si­fied as a trop­i­cal storm, ODPEM is­sued press re­lease No.1 ad­vis­ing of its lo­ca­tion and things that the pub­lic needed to do to pre­pare them­selves in the event of a di­rect hit. And there were oth­ers. So in what way were the pro­fes­sion­als side­lined?

Dr Carby seemed specif­i­cally con­cerned that ODPEM pro­fes­sion­als with spe­cific knowl­edge had not been given room to li­aise prop­erly with the pub­lic – and this seems to stem from a joint press con­fer­ence where the lo­cal gov­ern­ment min­is­ter spoke, and noth­ing was heard from the agency head. The sec­ond area of con­cern was that the politi­cians were not pro­vid­ing par­tic­u­larly use­ful info.

SHARED AND CITED

It seems to me, how­ever, that if ODPEM of­fi­cials needed a joint press con­fer­ence to make their voices heard in a time of cri­sis, some­thing would be amiss in­ter­nally in how they see their role and how they op­er­ate. The or­gan­i­sa­tion is too well-es­tab­lished to be eas­ily co-opted by politi­cians, and if the lo­cal gov­ern­ment min­is­ter was ubiq­ui­tous in shar­ing “ir­rel­e­vances”, ODPEM per­son­nel could still use their good of­fices to pro­vide use­ful ad­vi­sories with­out speak­ing at cross-pur­poses with elected per­sons.

So, did the min­is­ter or other min­is­ters stron­garm ODPEM of­fi­cials to keep quiet and let politi­cians alone speak at the press con­fer­ence? Were they barred from speak­ing in any other fo­rum? If that hap­pened and the of­fi­cials com­plied, they should be work­ing else­where but not in as im­por­tant an or­gan­i­sa­tion as ODPEM.

It would seem to me that ODPEM of­fi­cials have too many plat­forms at their dis­posal to share timely and use­ful in­for­ma­tion with the pub­lic to be ef­fec­tively side­lined by politi­cians. Per­haps the cur­rent head, Ma­jor Clive Davis, needed to have played a greater lead­er­ship role in a mo­ment of loom­ing cri­sis. On the other hand, ODPEM may have opted for an agency-cen­tred in­for­ma­tion flow rather than a per­son­al­ity-fo­cused one.

In this case, the charge of politi­cians sidelin­ing the ODPEM pro­fes­sion­als seems over­stated.

JOHN PUB­LIC

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